Close on 100 cars will start Sunday’s Kerry Winter Rally which gets underway at 9:30am on November 13th from the Banna Beach Resort near Ardfert.
Competitors in this popular end of season rally will face six demanding stages in the North Kerry area with a centralised service park on the sea-front in Ballyheuige providing the perfect back drop.
Leading the field away will be last year’s winners Stephen McCann and his Killarney co-driver Damien Fleming. The pair won the rally last year at the wheel of a Mitsubishi Lancer E9 but have since sold the car and arrive in Kerry with a newly acquired Ford Fiesta S2000 at their disposal. The pair hope to contest next year’s Irish Tarmac Rally Championship in the new car. Back-to-back victories in Banna would be the perfect way to set up their 2017 season.
A second win won’t be easy, Daniel Cronin won the rally years ago and is the current owner of Mc Cann’s 2016 event-winning Lancer. West Cork driver Cronin , who has local man Shane Buckley on the notes was the winner of the recent Fastnet Rally held over the October bank holiday weekend in Bantry and will be all out to revenge last year’s defeat. Cronin’s uncle Denis and brother Keith are both former multiple winner of this rally and the younger Cronin would love to add a second victory and uphold family honour.
Third on the road is local hero Mike Quinn, the Ford Escort driver, not always blessed with the kindest of luck was the 2013 winner and few would bet against anyone of the top trio taking a second victory.
The rally is the final round of the Top Part West Coast Rally championship and favourite for championship honours is Monaghan driver Shane Maguire. The Mitsubishi Lancer E9 driver is a regular visitor to the Kingdom but has never won a event here – something he l be anxious to correct over the fast but challenging roads near Ballyduff and Causeway.
Another local crew who are likely to feature near the top end of the results are father and son team Charlie and Johnny Hickey from Killarney. The Ford Escort crew have just been crowned Southern Four Rally Champions.
One of the most coveted trophies on the Kerry Winter Rally is the Donal O’Flahery Memorial Trophy. It is awarded to the highest-placed Kerry Motor Club crew who are driving a rear-wheel-drive car. Tom Relihan and club chairman Maurice McElligott are one of the favourites for this award but the Ford Escort crew will face opposition from the likes of Pat Barry and Stephen O’Connell in a Ford Sierra Cosworth and father and daughter team Denis and Marguerite Dowling in another Escort. Eoin Duffin and Mike Cleary and Tim Enright and Stephen Buckley are another two crews in line for this award. Tralee team Daren Young and Sean Hegarty are seeded in the top 20 in their Honda Civic.
One interesting entry is that of Calvin Beattie. The Armagh driver is usually found competing on British Rally Championship international events but is using Sunday’s rally as a high-speed tarmac test for his Opel Adam.
Image from Banna Bay Hotel winter Rally Facebook Page